Peace in Your Storms
by Susan Brown
“Be anxious for nothing…” Really? When tangible trauma rocks our world or the subtle suspicion that we’ve missed our purpose steals our peace, what then? Those who have thought deeply and dealt daily with these issues, two pastors and a licensed professional counselor, look at the promise and practice of peace.
Journey pastors Jay and Stacey Coleman were returning from their son’s wedding in Arkansas when they heard the news: Flood waters were rising in Baton Rouge. After two uncertain days in Natchitoches, they returned to Greenwell Springs to find – chaos. Journey Church welcomed the community with a message: We’re with you, we’re suffering too. But in the middle of the muddy mess, we can have peace and even joy. The parking lot was packed.
“We personally flooded – our house and the church. We were trying to minister to a bunch of people in the community; everything was just chaotic,” Pastor Jay Coleman said.
We talk about peace all the time and we’re kind of flippant with it, actually,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my moments. But you discover that the peace and joy the Lord brings really is a strength to you: to hold you up, to help you make decisions in the hard days, to be able to stand up and put one foot in front of the other and move forward. So, for me, personally, it just comes down to knowing who you are in Christ.
So, how do we have peace, when circumstances and emotions seem out of control? Coleman said first, “focus on relationship, not rules. So many believers seem to be running around like chickens with their heads cut off,” Coleman said. A focus on Christianity as a set of obligations isn’t peaceful or fun. It’s exhausting. The game-changer for Coleman was discovering what it meant to have a relationship with God: “I really began to embrace that God loved me and wanted to walk with me and know me, that through the Holy Spirit he dwelt inside of me,” he said. “It means really discovering your DNA, your identity, your purpose, the plan that you have here on earth.”
“We need to understand who God is and who we are as belonging to him,” said Licensed Professional Counselor Sherry Kadair of the Baton Rouge Christian Counseling Center.
“We’re beloved, not abandoned by God. We are forgiven. Walk in full forgiveness. That includes forgiveness for not living up to expectations in ourselves. Sometimes we think God is secretly mad,” she said.
“We are created for purpose. There is a greater sense of purpose in community,” Kadair said. “Although I am living through the flood, I also have something I can give to the community. We need to see beyond our own pain.”
Kadair said lack of peace frequently comes when we are functioning in the place where we have the least control: changing circumstances, relational stress or past wounds such as growing up with chaos or abuse. “So often it flows back to the Serenity Prayer: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.’”
In general terms, Kadair recommends:
Be honest. Jesus ministered to the man who said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). “Understand there is hope and transformation rather than read scripture and admonish ourselves. Invite God into where we are.”
Stop judging yourself. For example, “If I was really a good mother, it would look like this,” rather than the current reality. “I want God to be known so well that I know I can safely run to him,” Kadair said.
Breathe deeply. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). “Slow, deep breathing triggers a physical change that gets us out of fight or flight,” Kadair said. “Look around to remind ourselves we’re not in the flooded house or in the boat.”
Practice peace. Slow down, relax. “Write down what you want to accomplish and prayerfully revisit it later,” Kadair advised. “Come up with a strategy.”
Unpackage memories and process them. There may be depression and re-living of hard situations. Those who experienced flooding may be back in the house but still not okay. There is trauma. Some may have flashes of water coming up again or other memories. Kadair said some may benefit from professional help such as EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing.
Be patient. It makes sense this will happen for a while. Accept it will take some time to recover emotionally as well as physically.
Meditate on scripture. “Use a short snippet of scripture,” Kadair said. “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27). Worship rather than be caught in the storm. Focus on Christ, like Peter, who was able to walk on water as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, rather than the surrounding turbulence (Matthew 14:22-32).
“It’s important to take time to put on some worship music, even in my car when I’m by myself,” said Journey Worship Pastor Stacy Coleman. “I use that time to enter into prayer as well, especially when it’s been extremely stressful.”
“Constantly surround yourself with others you can trust, so you can express how you’re feeling. And be honest with the Lord about your feelings,” she said. “Don’t try to keep those things inside of you and deal with them on your own,” Jay Coleman said. “Choose to be with people who will encourage you. Let them be honest with you.”
Talk it out, but don’t get stuck in a cycle of never-ending negative thought, Jay Coleman advised. Keep moving forward in your thoughts and actions. “There are times when you say, ‘I don’t feel like doing this.’ Well you can’t go on feelings. Every day you get up, and put one foot in front of the other,” he said.
“Another thing that robs our peace is when there’s sin in our life,” Jay Coleman said. “We want to pretend that God only loves to bless us, but if we’re knowingly walking in sin we’re not going to have peace in our life.”
“I’ve talked to people throughout the year who say God laid something on their heart to do whether it was ministry or a specific calling, and they sidestep and go the other way. They begin to struggle with that. Is there a second chance? Well, absolutely,” Jay Coleman said. “Wherever the Lord puts you, whatever he puts in front of you, do it with everything you’ve got.”
That includes reaching out to others who are not experiencing peace. “If we really are the body of Christ, when the Holy Spirit leads us, we need to step out. You’re not going to know all the right things to say,” Jay Coleman said. “Don’t try to solve all their problems. Measure your speech very carefully.”
Or, don’t speak at all. “One of my neighbors, a big old burly guy like me, came walking down the driveway at my house. He had flooded, too, and we just embraced and stood there and cried,” Jay Coleman said. “That, in itself, meant the world. James 1:19 tells us: ‘Be quick to listen, slow to speak.’ We’re not called to be the lone ranger. Accept and give practical assistance.”
“Then, sometimes we need to step outside our circle and seek help,” the Rev. Coleman said. “Just acknowledge that there may be a need for professional counseling. And, sit down with your doctor and see if there are some health things going on.”
“Peace is a foundation in the midst of what’s coming up,” Kadair explained. “Remember God is not surprised by what surprised you. In the midst of the unknown there is a known God and we can rest in him. God does promise to use everything for our good and his glory.”